Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Alan Zada reported that the Benicia Police Department estimated the crowd at 1500. I’ve added a few of my own photos here. For more great photos, go to Larnie Fox’s Facebook page. – RS]
Benicia teens lead march of about 800: ‘We will vote’By Richard Freedman, 03/24/18
Benicia is known for its numerous parades. Protest marches? Not as much. Until Saturday.
Around 800 residents braved an early morning chill led by students with a NEVER AGAIN banner, getting a jump on the national March for Our Lives with a walk up First Street and speeches at the City Park gazebo.
“Brave students have come together to say ‘enough is enough,’” said Assemblyman Tim Grayson, adding that he appeared in Benicia not as a politician, but as the father of a 16-year-old.
“A parent shouldn’t have to wonder if a child is going to be safe at school,” Grayson said.
“Today we are together, tomorrow we are together and we will still be together until we end gun violence,” proclaimed Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, calling for “a ban of weapons of war on our streets.”
Shannon Sweeney, 17, Benicia Senior Class president and one of the event coordinators, smiled at the turnout of the peaceful march.
“I’ve learned what it’s like to come together with a lot of people to make change,” she said. “It’s nice to see all these people showing up to protect our students and everyone from gun violence.”
The March for Our Lives is not the last the nation will hear from the young people, insisted Sweeney.
“We’re not letting up,” Sweeney said. “Our generation is not going to stop. We won’t stop fighting for our rights.”
Young students were at the front of the march chanting “Change laws or change Congress.”
The platform young people have taken since the Parkland, Fla., Feb. 13 shootings “won’t let up until we get legislation,” Sweeney continued.
Sweeney said she and many of her peers turn 18 before the mid-term November elections.
“We will vote,” she said.
Amen, believed long-time Benician Eileen Stern.
“I’m here because of the kids,” she said. “Absolutely, it’s the kids. We can’t have the gun violence hurting the kids anymore. We started it in the 1960s and they’re going to finish it.”
Gun violence hit home with Benicia teacher Ron Garcia. His brother, Officer Len Garcia with the Richmond police, was shot and killed at age 31 in 1992.
“Because of the gun laws, they had to give him (the suspect) his gun back” a few months before the fatal shooting, Garcia said. “He killed my brother with armor-piercing bullets.”
Garcia and his wife, Carol, participated in the march hoping Congress enacts “common sense gun laws.”
Garcia praised the action taken by the country’s teens, “many of them who aren’t old enough to vote yet.”
“We need to get kicked in the butt by our own youth to stop sitting around and do something,” Garcia said.
As the hundreds surrounded the downtown gazebo, Vice Mayor Steve Young read the names of the 17 killed in Parkland and asked for a moment of silence.
A national movement is underway “to atone for the mistakes of the past,” said speaker Liam Madigan, a Benicia High School junior.
“Guns exist for one reason and one reason only — to kill,” Madigan said. “The death that comes at the result of a gun is not a side effect. It is the effect.”
Madigan pointed to public polls indicating 66 percent of America supports gun control.
“So why is it so hard to bring about change?” he said, vowing that the youth “will continue to speak out until our voices are heard and change is brought about. This silent epidemic claims 96 lives every day in this country. Our priorities are so contorted. We’d rather protect our guns than our future.”
Benicia High School senior Shawna Williams delivered a passionate anti-gun speech.
“No one should be scared that their school should be the next one” hit by violence, Williams said. “If people in charge won’t stand up, then we will.”
Williams encouraged legislators to raise the gun-buying age to 21.
“What 18-year-old needs a gun, never mind a weapon of war?” Williams said. “It terrifies me that I can go buy any gun. We’ve seen what automatic weapons can do. Why are they being sold?”
Other speakers included Mel Orpilla, representing Rep. Mike Thompson, students Morgan Bundy, Caitlin Clark, Karah Fisher, and Carson Rendell, educator Michelle Gaines, Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown, Solano County Office of Education trustee Dana Dean, and Benicia school board member Stacy Holguin.
Music was provided by The Hippie Chicks & Co., and Gabby Campitelli.
John Beck, holding a sign “Arms Are For Hugging,” said there’s “a lot of momentum” with the march to get something done in Washington, D.C.
There is reason to be concerned about the gun violence, he said.
“It can happen here,” Beck said.
Benicia poet laureate Johanna Ely recited her heart-tugging poem, “I Am tired of Waking Up to the Faces of Dead Children.”
“I want to tell them they are not dead. I want to reach down into the earth, into the ashes and resurrect them; pull them up by their bones and hug them to my chest. I want wake them up and reassure them that they are only having a nightmare; that the ghoul with the gun isn’t real. I want to check their homework and make them breakfast and send them off into sunlight and tell them I will see them when they return home. I am tired of waiting for gun laws to change. I am tired of imaging blood on my hands, these children dying in my arms. I am tired of hearing their awful silence exploding in my ears, how every morning they look at me and just keep smiling.”